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Legal Fight Over Filming Darkens Days in the Sun for 'Beverly Hills, 90210' : Law: Residents' suit protesting outdoor scenes at Hermosa Beach house sends popular TV show indoors. Judge's decision could affect production companies statewide.

September 23, 1993|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Three college freshman characters on "Beverly Hills, 90210" moved into beachfront digs a week ago, but they might get cabin fever as the season progresses.

Producers, caught in a legal dispute over their filming of outdoor scenes at an oceanfront home in Hermosa Beach, have shifted their shoots indoors, to a studio sound stage. That change, which has required construction of a set resembling the Hermosa home's interior, will keep Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) and David Silver (Brian Austin Green) housebound--although producers hope not for good.

"The reason we picked (the Hermosa Beach) home is truly to get the ambience of the beach," said "90210" producer Paul Waigner. If the program's remaining shows end up being filmed on the sound stage, he added, "It doesn't have the same effect."

Torrance Superior Court Commissioner Abraham Gorenfeld intends to decide within 90 days whether to prohibit the show from filming at the home, located at 3500 The Strand. In July, a group of real-life neighbors sued the city, claiming that its permit for the filming violated zoning laws that prohibit commercial land uses in residential areas.

At a two-hour hearing before Gorenfeld Tuesday, city attorneys asserted the production caused no more disruption than would a door-to-door salesman. The residents group, however, said the show's location unit is more like a mini-movie studio.

"They're bringing in 100 people, a power generator, trucks," said attorney Jim Hamilton, who lives in the neighborhood and is representing himself, his wife and another couple in the suit. ". . . '90210' is hanging up a shingle, not every day, but more than other prohibited (commercial activities)."

City officials, however, argued Tuesday that while Hermosa's zoning laws do not allow filming, no provisions specifically prohibit it.

"If a producer sent a student filmmaker to shoot scenes with a Super 8 camera, no one would contend it was a (prohibited) land-use," said A. J. Hazarabedian, an attorney for the city.

Production, he said, is not regulated by city zoning law, but rather by the city's film-permit ordinance. And in that ordinance, Hazarabedian said, "there is no indication that the City Council intended the filming to occur only in commercial areas."

The controversy has attracted the attention of the California Film Commission, a state panel that promotes filming in the state, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a film industry group. The two organizations fear a ripple effect, in which residents in other cities would also cite local zoning laws to keep production out of their neighborhoods.

"In any area we go to, they will say, 'I don't like this activity' and use that argument," said David Bloomfield, vice president and general counsel of Spelling Entertainment, which produces the show. "In every single area, someone can concoct an argument on how this will affect them."

If "Beverly Hills, 90210" loses in court, the show, which has shot seven episodes this year, would be forced to alter story lines. One of the show's producers has jokingly suggested that scriptwriters might have to craft an episode in which the three college students are evicted.

And Spelling executives say other production companies will be scared away from Hermosa Beach, where scenes from "Baywatch" and "Hunter" also have been shot.

"We are very careful when we go to any location not to cause a disruption," Bloomfield said after the hearing. " . . . But if they can't figure out a way to make it film-friendly to production companies, (production companies) are going to go elsewhere."

Hamilton said such fears are overblown.

"We don't want to drive filming out of state," he said. "We don't want to drive filming out of Hermosa Beach. . . . But if it's going to be allowed, there should be a process to prevent its adverse impact."

Before he recessed Tuesday's hearing, Gorenfeld offered a solution: put the matter to a vote of the people.

Not workable, Hazarabedian said. "Filmmakers operate on a short-term schedule."

Looking puzzled, Gorenfeld responded: "I'm sure the producers of '90210' hope to run as long as 'Mary Tyler Moore' or 'MASH.' They'll probably be (on the air) for the next 20 years."

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